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    Chapter 3

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    Chapter 3
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    Every Tuesday Helene had Monsieur Rambaud and Abbe Jouve to dine with
    her. It was they who, during the early days of her bereavement, had
    broken in on her solitude, and drawn up their chairs to her table with
    friendly freedom; their object being to extricate her, at least once a
    week, from the solitude in which she lived. The Tuesday dinners became
    established institutions, and the partakers in these little feasts
    appeared punctually at seven o'clock, serenely happy in discharging
    what they deemed a duty.

    That Tuesday Helene was seated at the window, profiting by the last
    gleams of the twilight to finish some needle work, pending the arrival
    of her guests. She here spent her days in pleasant peacefulness. The
    noises of the street died away before reaching such a height. She
    loved this large, quiet chamber, with its substantial luxury, its
    rosewood furniture and blue velvet curtains. When her friends had
    attended to her installation, she not having to trouble about
    anything, she had at first somewhat suffered from all this sombre
    luxury, in preparing which Monsieur Rambaud had realized his ideal of
    comfort, much to the admiration of his brother, who had declined the
    task. She was not long, however, in feeling happy in a home in which,
    as in her heart, all was sound and simple. Her only enjoyment during
    her long hours of work was to gaze before her at the vast horizon, the
    huge pile of Paris, stretching its roofs, like billows, as far as the
    eye could reach. Her solitary corner overlooked all that immensity.

    "Mamma, I can no longer see," said Jeanne, seated near her on a low
    chair. And then, dropping her work, the child gazed at Paris, which
    was darkening over with the shadows of night. She rarely romped about,
    and her mother even had to exert authority to induce her to go out. In
    accordance with Doctor Bodin's strict injunction, Helene made her
    stroll with her two hours each day in the Bois de Boulogne, and this
    was their only promenade; in eighteen months they had not gone three
    times into Paris.[*] Nowhere was Jeanne so evidently happy as in their
    large blue room. Her mother had been obliged to renounce her intention
    of having her taught music, for the sound of an organ in the silent
    streets made her tremble and drew tears from her eyes. Her favorite
    occupation was to assist her mother in sewing linen for the children
    of the Abbe's poor.

    [*] Passy and the Trocadero are now well inside Paris, but at the time
    fixed for this story they were beyond the _barrieres_.

    Night had quite fallen when the lamp was brought in by Rosalie, who,
    fresh from the glare of her range, looked altogether upset. Tuesday's
    dinner was the one event of the week, which put things topsy-turvy.

    "Aren't the gentlemen coming here to-night, madame?" she inquired.

    Helene looked at the timepiece: "It's a quarter to seven; they will be
    here soon," she replied.

    Rosalie was a gift from Abbe Jouve, who had met her at the station on
    the day she arrived from Orleans, so that she did not know a single
    street in Paris. A village priest, an old schoolmate of Abbe Jouve's,
    had sent her to him. She was dumpy and plump, with a round face under
    her narrow cap, thick black hair, a flat nose, and deep red lips; and
    she was expert in preparing savory dishes, having been brought up at
    the parsonage by her godmother, servant to the village priest.

    "Here is Monsieur Rambaud at last!" she exclaimed, rushing to open the
    door before there was even a ring.

    Full and broad-shouldered, Monsieur Rambaud entered, displaying an
    expansive countenance like that of a country notary. His forty-five
    years had already silvered his hair, but his large blue eyes retained
    a wondering, artless, gentle expression, akin to a child's.

    "And here's his reverence; everybody has come now!" resumed Rosalie,
    as she opened the door once more.

    Whilst Monsieur Rambaud pressed Helene's hand and sat down without
    speaking, smiling like one who felt quite at home, Jeanne threw her
    arms round the Abbe's neck.

    "Good-evening, dear friend," said she. "I've been so ill!"

    "So ill, my darling?"

    The two men at once showed their anxiety, the Abbe especially. He was
    a short, spare man, with a large head and awkward manners, and dressed
    in the most careless way; but his eyes, usually half-closed, now
    opened to their full extent, all aglow with exquisite tenderness.
    Jeanne relinquished one of her hands to him, while she gave the other
    to Monsieur Rambaud. Both held her and gazed at her with troubled
    looks. Helene was obliged to relate the story of her illness, and the
    Abbe was on the point of quarrelling with her for not having warned
    him of it. And then they each questioned her. "The attack was quite
    over now? She had not had another, had she?" The mother smiled as she
    listened.

    "You are even fonder of her than I am, and I think you'll frighten me
    in the end," she replied. "No, she hasn't been troubled again, except
    that she has felt some pains in her limbs and had some headaches. But
    we shall get rid of these very soon."

    The maid then entered to announce that dinner was ready.

    The table, sideboard, and eight chairs furnishing the dining-room were
    of mahogany. The curtains of red reps had been drawn close by Rosalie,
    and a hanging lamp of white porcelain within a plain brass ring
    lighted up the tablecloth, the carefully-arranged plates, and the
    tureen of steaming soup. Each Tuesday's dinner brought round the same
    remarks, but on this particular day Dr. Deberle served naturally as a
    subject of conversation. Abbe Jouve lauded him to the skies, though he
    knew that he was no church-goer. He spoke of him, however, as a man of
    upright character, charitable to a fault, a good father, and a good
    husband--in fact, one who gave the best of examples to others. As for
    Madame Deberle she was most estimable, in spite of her somewhat
    flighty ways, which were doubtless due to her Parisian education. In a
    word, he dubbed the couple charming. Helene seemed happy to hear this;
    it confirmed her own opinions; and the Abbe's remarks determined her
    to continue the acquaintance, which had at first rather frightened
    her.

    "You shut yourself up too much!" declared the priest.

    "No doubt," echoed his brother.

    Helene beamed on them with her quiet smile, as though to say that they
    themselves sufficed for all her wants, and that she dreaded new
    acquaintances. However, ten o'clock struck at last, and the Abbe and
    his brother took up their hats. Jeanne had just fallen asleep in an
    easy-chair in the bedroom, and they bent over her, raising their heads
    with satisfied looks as they observed how tranquilly she slumbered.
    They stole from the room on tiptoe, and in the lobby whispered their
    good-byes:

    "Till next Tuesday!"

    "O, by the way," said the Abbe, returning a step or two, "I was
    forgetting: Mother Fetu is ill. You should go to see her."

    "I will go to-morrow," answered Helene.

    The Abbe had a habit of commissioning her to visit his poor. They
    engaged in all sorts of whispered talk together on this subject,
    private business which a word or two enabled them to settle together,
    and which they never referred to in the presence of other persons.

    On the morrow Helene went out alone. She decided to leave Jeanne in
    the house, as the child had been troubled with fits of shivering since
    paying a visit of charity to an old man who had become paralyzed. Once
    out of doors, she followed the Rue Vineuse, turned down the Rue
    Raynouard, and soon found herself in the Passage des Eaux, a strange,
    steep lane, like a staircase, pent between garden walls, and
    conducting from the heights of Passy to the quay. At the bottom of
    this descent was a dilapidated house, where Mother Fetu lived in an
    attic lighted by a round window, and furnished with a wretched bed, a
    rickety table, and a seatless chair.

    "Oh! my good lady, my good lady!" she moaned out, directly she saw
    Helene enter.

    The old woman was in bed. In spite of her wretchedness, her body was
    plump, swollen out, as it were, while her face was puffy, and her
    hands seemed numbed as she drew the tattered sheet over her. She had
    small, keen eyes and a whimpering voice, and displayed a noisy
    humility in a rush of words.

    "Ah! my good lady, how I thank you! Ah, ah! oh, how I suffer! It's
    just as if dogs were tearing at my side. I'm sure I have a beast
    inside me--see, just there! The skin isn't broken; the complaint is
    internal. But, oh! oh! the pain hasn't ceased for two days past. Good
    Lord, how is it possible to suffer so much? Ah, my good lady, thank
    you! You don't forget the poor. It will be taken into account up
    above; yes, yes, it will be taken into account!"

    Helene had sat down. Noticing on the table a jug of warm _tisane_, she
    filled a cup which was near at hand, and gave it to the sufferer. Near
    the jug were placed a packet of sugar, two oranges, and some other
    comfits.

    "Has any one been to see you?" Helene asked.

    "Yes, yes,--a little lady. But she doesn't know. That isn't the sort
    of stuff I need. Oh, if I could get a little meat! My next-door
    neighbor would cook it for me. Oh! oh! this pain is something
    dreadful! A dog is tearing at me--oh, if only I had some broth!"

    In spite of the pains which were racking her limbs, she kept her sharp
    eyes fixed on Helene, who was now busy fumbling in her pocket, and on
    seeing her visitor place a ten-franc piece on the table, she whimpered
    all the more, and tried to rise to a sitting posture. Whilst
    struggling, she extended her arm, and the money vanished, as she
    repeated:

    "Gracious Heaven! this is another frightful attack. Oh! oh! I cannot
    stand such agony any longer! God will requite you, my good lady; I
    will pray to Him to requite you. Bless my soul, how these pains shoot
    through my whole body! His reverence Abbe Jouve promised me you would
    come. It's only you who know what I want. I am going to buy some meat.
    But now the pain's going down into my legs. Help me; I have no
    strength left--none left at all!"

    The old woman wished to turn over, and Helene, drawing off her gloves,
    gently took hold of her and placed her as she desired. As she was
    still bending over her the door opened, and a flush of surprise
    mounted to her cheeks as she saw Dr. Deberle entering. Did he also
    make visits to which he never referred?

    "It's the doctor!" blurted out the old woman. "Oh! Heaven must bless
    you both for being so good!"

    The doctor bowed respectfully to Helene. Mother Fetu had ceased
    whining on his entrance, but kept up a sibilant wheeze, like that of a
    child in pain. She had understood at once that the doctor and her
    benefactress were known to one another; and her eyes never left them,
    but travelled from one to the other, while her wrinkled face showed
    that her mind was covertly working. The doctor put some questions to
    her, and sounded her right side; then, turning to Helene, who had just
    sat down, he said:

    "She is suffering from hepatic colic. She will be on her feet again in
    a few days."

    And, tearing from his memorandum book a leaf on which he had written
    some lines, he added, addressing Mother Fetu:

    "Listen to me. You must send this to the chemist in the Rue de Passy,
    and every two hours you must drink a spoonful of the draught he will
    give you."

    The old woman burst out anew into blessings. Helene remained seated.
    The doctor lingered gazing at her; but when their eyes had met, he
    bowed and discreetly took his leave. He had not gone down a flight ere
    Mother Fetu's lamentations were renewed.

    "Ah! he's such a clever doctor! Ah! if his medicine could do me some
    good! Dandelions and tallow make a good simple for removing water from
    the body. Yes, yes, you can say you know a clever doctor. Have you
    known him long? Gracious goodness, how thirsty I am! I feel burning
    hot. He has a wife, hasn't he? He deserves to have a good wife and
    beautiful children. Indeed, it's a pleasure to see kind-hearted people
    good acquaintances."

    Helene had risen to give her a drink.

    "I must go now, Mother Fetu," she said. "Good-bye till to-morrow."

    "Ah! how good you are! If I only had some linen! Look at my chemise
    --it's torn in half; and this bed is so dirty. But that doesn't matter.
    God will requite you, my good lady!"

    Next day, on Helene's entering Mother Fetu's room, she found Dr.
    Deberle already there. Seated on the chair, he was writing out a
    prescription, while the old woman rattled on with whimpering
    volubility.

    "Oh, sir, it now feels like lead in my side--yes, just like lead! It's
    as heavy as a hundred-pound weight, and prevents me from turning
    round."

    Then, having caught sight of Helene, she went on without a pause: "Ah!
    here's the good lady! I told the kind doctor you would come. Though
    the heavens might fall, said I, you would come all the same. You're a
    very saint, an angel from paradise, and, oh! so beautiful that people
    might fall on their knees in the streets to gaze on you as you pass!
    Dear lady, I am no better; just now I have a heavy feeling here. Oh, I
    have told the doctor what you did for me! The emperor could have done
    no more. Yes, indeed, it would be a sin not to love you--a great sin."

    These broken sentences fell from her lips as, with eyes half closed,
    she rolled her head on the bolster, the doctor meantime smiling at
    Helene, who felt very ill at ease.

    "Mother Fetu," she said softly, "I have brought you a little linen."

    "Oh, thank you, thank you; God will requite you! You're just like this
    kind, good gentleman, who does more good to poor folks than a host of
    those who declare it their special work. You don't know what great
    care he has taken of me for four months past, supplying me with
    medicine and broth and wine. One rarely finds a rich person so kind to
    a poor soul! Oh, he's another of God's angels! Dear, dear, I seem to
    have quite a house in my stomach!"

    In his turn the doctor now seemed to be embarrassed. He rose and
    offered his chair to Helene; but although she had come with the
    intention of remaining a quarter of an hour, she declined to sit down,
    on the plea that she was in a great hurry.

    Meanwhile, Mother Fetu, still rolling her head to and fro, had
    stretched out her hand, and the parcel of linen had vanished in the
    bed. Then she resumed:

    "Oh, what a couple of good souls you are! I don't wish to offend you;
    I only say it because it's true. When you have seen one, you have seen
    the other. Oh, dear Lord! give me a hand and help me to turn round.
    Kind-hearted people understand one another. Yes, yes, they understand
    one another."

    "Good-bye, Mother Fetu," said Helene, leaving the doctor in sole
    possession. "I don't think I shall call to-morrow."

    The next day, however, found her in the attic again. The old woman was
    sound asleep, but scarcely had she opened her eyes and recognized
    Helene in her black dress sitting on the chair than she exclaimed:

    "He has been here--oh, I really don't know what he gave me to take,
    but I am as stiff as a stick. We were talking about you. He asked me
    all kinds of questions; whether you were generally sad, and whether
    your look was always the same. Oh, he's such a good man!"

    Her words came more slowly, and she seemed to be waiting to see by the
    expression of Helene's face what effect her remarks might have on her,
    with that wheedling, anxious air of the poor who are desirous of
    pleasing people. No doubt she fancied she could detect a flush of
    displeasure mounting to her benefactress's brow, for her huge,
    puffed-up face, all eagerness and excitement, suddenly clouded over;
    and she resumed, in stammering accents:

    "I am always asleep. Perhaps I have been poisoned. A woman in the Rue
    de l'Annonciation was killed by a drug which the chemist gave her in
    mistake for another."

    That day Helene lingered for nearly half an hour in Mother Fetu's
    room, hearing her talk of Normandy, where she had been born, and where
    the milk was so good. During a silence she asked the old woman
    carelessly: "Have you known the doctor a long time?"

    Mother Fetu, lying on her back, half-opened her eyes and again closed
    them.

    "Oh, yes!" she answered, almost in a whisper. "For instance, his
    father attended to me before '48, and he accompanied him then."

    "I have been told the father was a very good man."

    "Yes, but a little cracked. The son is much his superior. When he
    touches you you would think his hands were of velvet."

    Silence again fell.

    "I advise you to do everything he tells you," at last said Helene. "He
    is very clever; he saved my daughter."

    "To be sure!" exclaimed Mother Fetu, again all excitement. "People
    ought to have confidence in him. Why, he brought a boy to life again
    when he was going to be buried! Oh, there aren't two persons like him;
    you won't stop me from saying that! I am very lucky; I fall in with
    the pick of good-hearted people. I thank the gracious Lord for it
    every night. I don't forget either of you. You are mingled together in
    my prayers. May God in His goodness shield you and grant your every
    wish! May He load you with His gifts! May He keep you a place in
    Paradise!"

    She was now sitting up in bed with hands clasped, seemingly entreating
    Heaven with devout fervor. Helene allowed her to go on thus for a
    considerable time, and even smiled. The old woman's chatter, in fact,
    ended by lulling her into a pleasant drowsiness, and when she went off
    she promised to give her a bonnet and gown, as soon as she should be
    able to get about again.

    Throughout that week Helene busied herself with Mother Fetu. Her
    afternoon visit became an item in her daily life. She felt a strange
    fondness for the Passage des Eaux. She liked that steep lane for its
    coolness and quietness and its ever-clean pavement, washed on rainy
    days by the water rushing down from the heights. A strange sensation
    thrilled her as she stood at the top and looked at the narrow alley
    with its steep declivity, usually deserted, and only known to the few
    inhabitants of the neighboring streets. Then she would venture through
    an archway dividing a house fronting the Rue Raynouard, and trip down
    the seven flights of broad steps, in which lay the bed of a pebbly
    stream occupying half of the narrow way. The walls of the gardens on
    each side bulged out, coated with a grey, leprous growth; umbrageous
    trees drooped over, foliage rained down, here and there an ivy plant
    thickly mantled the stonework, and the chequered verdure, which only
    left glimpses of the blue sky above, made the light very soft and
    greeny. Halfway down Helene would stop to take breath, gazing at the
    street-lamp which hung there, and listening to the merry laughter in
    the gardens, whose doors she had never seen open. At times an old
    woman panted up with the aid of the black, shiny, iron handrail fixed
    in the wall to the right; a lady would come, leaning on her parasol as
    on a walking-stick; or a band of urchins would run down, with a great
    stamping of feet. But almost always Helene found herself alone, and
    this steep, secluded, shady descent was to her a veritable delight
    --like a path in the depths of a forest. At the bottom she would raise
    her eyes, and the sight of the narrow, precipitous alley she had just
    descended made her feel somewhat frightened.

    She glided into the old woman's room with the quiet and coolness of
    the Passage des Eaux clinging to her garments. This woefully wretched
    den no longer affected her painfully. She moved about there as if in
    her own rooms, opening the round attic window to admit the fresh air,
    and pushing the table into a corner if it came in her way. The
    garret's bareness, its whitewashed walls and rickety furniture,
    realized to her mind an existence whose simplicity she had sometimes
    dreamt of in her girlhood. But what especially charmed her was the
    kindly emotion she experienced there. Playing the part of sick nurse,
    hearing the constant bewailing of the old woman, all she saw and felt
    within the four walls left her quivering with deep pity. In the end
    she awaited with evident impatience Doctor Deberle's customary visit.
    She questioned him as to Mother Fetu's condition; but from this they
    glided to other subjects, as they stood near each other, face to face.
    A closer acquaintance was springing up between them, and they were
    surprised to find they possessed similar tastes. They understood one
    another without speaking a word, each heart engulfed in the same
    overflowing charity. Nothing to Helene seemed sweeter than this mutual
    feeling, which arose in such an unusual way, and to which she yielded
    without resistance, filled as she was with divine pity. At first she
    had felt somewhat afraid of the doctor; in her own drawing-room she
    would have been cold and distrustful, in harmony with her nature.
    Here, however, in this garret they were far from the world, sharing
    the one chair, and almost happy in the midst of the wretchedness and
    poverty which filled their souls with emotion. A week passed, and they
    knew one another as though they had been intimate for years. Mother
    Fetu's miserable abode was filled with sunshine, streaming from this
    fellowship of kindliness.

    The old woman grew better very slowly. The doctor was surprised, and
    charged her with coddling herself when she related that she now felt a
    dreadful weight in her legs. She always kept up her monotonous
    moaning, lying on her back and rolling her head to and fro; but she
    closed her eyes, as though to give her visitors an opportunity for
    unrestrained talk. One day she was to all appearance sound asleep, but
    beneath their lids her little black eyes continued watching. At last,
    however, she had to rise from her bed; and next day Helene presented
    her with the promised bonnet and gown. When the doctor made his
    appearance that afternoon the old woman's laggard memory seemed
    suddenly stirred. "Gracious goodness!" said she, "I've forgotten my
    neighbor's soup-pot; I promised to attend to it!"

    Then she disappeared, closing the door behind her and leaving the
    couple alone. They did not notice that they were shut in, but
    continued their conversation. The doctor urged Helene to spend the
    afternoon occasionally in his garden in the Rue Vineuse.

    "My wife," said he, "must return your visit, and she will in person
    repeat my invitation. It would do your daughter good."

    "But I don't refuse," she replied, laughing. "I do not require to be
    fetched with ceremony. Only--only--I am afraid of being indiscreet. At
    any rate, we will see."

    Their talk continued, but at last the doctor exclaimed in a tone of
    surprise: "Where on earth can Mother Fetu have gone? It must be a
    quarter of an hour since she went to see after her neighbor's
    soup-pot."

    Helene then saw that the door was shut, but it did not shock her at
    the moment. She continued to talk of Madame Deberle, of whom she spoke
    highly to her husband; but noticing that the doctor constantly glanced
    towards the door, she at last began to feel uncomfortable.

    "It's very strange that she does not come back!" she remarked in her
    turn.

    Their conversation then dropped. Helene, not knowing what to do,
    opened the window; and when she turned round they avoided looking at
    one another. The laughter of children came in through the circular
    window, which, with its bit of blue sky, seemed like a full round
    moon. They could not have been more alone--concealed from all
    inquisitive looks, with merely this bit of heaven gazing in on them.
    The voices of the children died away in the distance; and a quivering
    silence fell. No one would dream of finding them in that attic, out of
    the world. Their confusion grew apace, and in the end Helene,
    displeased with herself, gave the doctor a steady glance.

    "I have a great many visits to pay yet," he at once exclaimed. "As she
    doesn't return, I must leave."

    He quitted the room, and Helene then sat down. Immediately afterwards
    Mother Fetu returned with many protestations:

    "Oh! oh! I can scarcely crawl; such a faintness came over me! Has the
    dear good doctor gone? Well, to be sure, there's not much comfort
    here! Oh, you are both angels from heaven, coming to spend your time
    with one so unfortunate as myself! But God in His goodness will
    requite you. The pain has gone down into my feet to-day, and I had to
    sit down on a step. Oh, I should like to have some chairs! If I only
    had an easy-chair! My mattress is so vile too that I am quite ashamed
    when you come. The whole place is at your disposal, and I would throw
    myself into the fire if you required it. Yes. Heaven knows it; I
    always repeat it in my prayers! Oh, kind Lord, grant their utmost
    desires to these good friends of mine--in the name of the Father, the
    Son, and the Holy Ghost!"

    As Helene listened she experienced a singular feeling of discomfort.
    Mother Fetu's bloated face filled her with disgust. Never before in
    this stifling attic had she been affected in a like way; its sordid
    misery seemed to stare her in the face; the lack of fresh air, the
    surrounding wretchedness, quite sickened her. So she made all haste to
    leave, feeling hurt by the blessings which Mother Fetu poured after
    her.

    In the Passage des Eaux an additional sorrow came upon her. Halfway
    up, on the right-hand side of the path, the wall was hollowed out, and
    here there was an excavation, some disused well, enclosed by a
    railing. During the last two days when passing she had heard the
    wailings of a cat rising from this well, and now, as she slowly
    climbed the path, these wailings were renewed, but so pitifully that
    they seemed instinct with the agony of death. The thought that the
    poor brute, thrown into the disused well, was slowly dying there of
    hunger, quite rent Helene's heart. She hastened her steps, resolving
    that she would not venture down this lane again for a long time, lest
    the cat's death-call should reach her ears.

    The day was a Tuesday. In the evening, on the stroke of seven, as
    Helene was finishing a tiny bodice, the two wonted rings at the bell
    were heard, and Rosalie opened the door.

    "His reverence is first to-night!" she exclaimed. "Oh, here comes
    Monsieur Rambaud too!"

    They were very merry at dinner. Jeanne was nearly well again now, and
    the two brothers, who spoiled her, were successful in procuring her
    permission to eat some salad, of which she was excessively fond,
    notwithstanding Doctor Bodin's formal prohibition. When she was going
    to bed, the child in high spirits hung round her mother's neck and
    pleaded:

    "Oh! mamma, darling! let me go with you to-morrow to see the old woman
    you nurse!"

    But the Abbe and Monsieur Rambaud were the first to scold her for
    thinking of such a thing. They would not hear of her going amongst the
    poor, as the sight affected her too grieviously. The last time she had
    been on such an expedition she had twice swooned, and for three days
    her eyes had been swollen with tears, that had flowed even in her
    sleep.

    "Oh! I will be good!" she pleaded. "I won't cry, I promise."

    "It is quite useless, my darling," said her mother, caressing her.
    "The old woman is well now. I shall not go out any more; I'll stay all
    day with you!"
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